As many mainline denominations suffer a decline in numbers, a related trend—unpaid ministers serving churches that couldn't support a traditionally paid staff—is making itself felt. Smaller, often aging congregations mean tighter budgets that in turn limit pastoral salaries to part time, or unpaid altogether.
It's a dynamic far more familiar to evangelical congregations than their mainline counterparts. Evangelicals have become accustomed to lay/volunteer ministry being a significant part of a church's output, and have thrived on staff budgets far less than the man-hours actually given by a congregation.
From Religion Today:
The unpaid cleric model is gaining traction among Episcopalians. In the mid-1990s, for example, the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming had few if any unpaid clergy serving its 49 congregations. Now, 20 priests in Wyoming - more than one-third - are unpaid.
Within a few years, the number of unpaid clergy is expected to reach 35, according to Lori Modesitt, ministry developer for the Wyoming diocese. All those unpaid clergy are fully ordained.
Modesitt sees unpaid ministry as "the future of the church" - and a bright future at that. It empowers laypeople to become priests even if they can't leave other careers, she said. And it ensures that ministry never becomes just a job.
"What we're talking about is going back to the original church, where people took an active part and used their God-given gifts for the betterment of the community," Modesitt said. "This is a way to enliven congregations."
While there will always be a place for ministry professionals, we're in strong support of the move toward creative staffing. Be sure to check out these key articles on bivocational/unpaid ministry from our archives:
- "The New Tent-Makers"
- "Call Forwarding"
- "Five Perks to Being Bi-Vocational"
- "Finding the 'Perfect' Second Job"
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